Why I Adore… TANGLE

By Sean Lynch

In this latest edition of our Why I Adore series, comedy writer, performer and presenter Sean Lynch waxes lyrical about his love for the John Edwards/Southern Star universe of Australian dramas – most recently brought to life in AACTA nominated drama series Tangle, starring Justine Clarke, Kat Stewart, Ben Mendelsohn and Matt Day.

Tangle maze

The search for truth

If I’m being 100 per cent honest with myself – and it’s rare that I am (as far as I know, I’m a 74 year old Asian woman) — the reason I adore Tangle isn’t so much because of its own stand alone perfection, as it is for its association with sister series Love My Way and, to an extent, the entire John Edwards adult drama universe (from Secret Life Of Us through to Puberty Blues).

Justine Clarke, Lincoln Younes and Eva Lazarro in Tangle.

Justine Clarke, Lincoln Younes and Eva Lazarro in Tangle.

It’s very much the same reason I adore Woody Allen films: you can change the title, character names and packaging all you want, but at their core they’re all part of the same story; all searching for the truth at the centre of characters and ideas created by their writers long before the product in question was even considered.

Where Puberty Blues takes us on a journey from the ages of 10 – 20, Secret Life explored the perils of 20 – 30, and Love My Way looked at 30 -40. With Tangle, Edwards and company take us through the complications of being 40 – 50.

Tangle follows Ally (a pitch perfect “woman who has settled” Justine Clarke), who is married to Vince (charming rough-nut Ben Mendelsohn) and their two children, Romeo (Lincoln Younes) and Gigi (Eva Lazzaro).

In the first series of Tangle (aired on subscription television channel Showcase in 2010) Vince’s best friend Gabriel (Matt Day) has secretly been in love with Ally since their high school days, and when faced with the ultimate moral dilemma (love versus loyalty), Gabriel finds that he is unwilling to cover for (one of) Vince’s affairs with a local school mum.

Mixed in with all of this scandal is the fact that this school mum’s daughter Charlotte (Georgia Flood), is involved with Romeo and his cousin, Max (Blake Davis). Did I mention that Max is the result of an affair between Tim (Joel Tobeck) and Ally’s sister, Nat (Kat Stewart)? Tim and his wife Christine (Catherine McClements) are raising Max as their own, but boy, you wouldn’t know it half the time!

Two 'mums' competing for a son's love. Catherine McClements, Blake Davis & Kat Stewart in Tangle.

Two ‘mums’ competing for a son’s love. Catherine McClements, Blake Davis & Kat Stewart in Tangle.

What we have are three families colliding, connected via a web of love, sex, money and politics – almost to the point of suffering from soap opera syndrome. The number of “Tangles” in question becomes almost TOO coincidental to really be believable at some points. But with characters this well written, that’s just part of the fun.

Recurring themes, continuing pleasure

A talented young cast bring teen storylines to life, in contrast to the 40-something dramas of their parents.

A talented young cast bring teen storylines to life, in contrast to the 40-something dramas of their parents.

Edwards does like his archetypal characters and setups, and Tangle is full of them right from the outset: the uptight passive aggressive woman with control issues (Asher Keddie’s Julia Jackson in Love My Way versus Tangle’s Catherine McClements’ portrayal of Christine Williams); the heroine finding solace with her ex’s brothers (Brendan Cowell’s Tom Jackson in Love My Way versus Tangle’s Kick Gurry as Joe Kovac); a troubled born-out-of-wedlock child dealing with the concept of multiple parental figures and family units (Alex Cook’s Lou Jackson and Sam Parsonson’s Dylan Feingold in Love My Way versus Blake Davis’ Max Williams in Tangle); burgeoning teenage homosexuality (Dylan versus Max); the lingering effects of grief after a sudden death (Love My Way’s tragedy versus Tangle’s own dramatic death)… and that’s hardly the end of the list.

For many, this type of rehashing could be seen as little more than weak writing, a creative lull or even a quick cash-in by producers after the success of a break out hit (which Love My Way certainly was). However, it’s for this exact reason that I adore Tangle.

By “starting from scratch” with Tangle, the writers can continue to explore these deeply flawed, endlessly interesting characters without tainting the legacy of Love My Way. Yes, the stories of the Tangle universe could have VERY easily played out as Seasons 4 – 7 of Love My Way. But this “reboot” meant Love My Way couldn’t ever veer into the territory of “jumping the shark” or, more importantly, having its audience simply grow weary of the characters’ relentless, increasingly unlikely dramas.

It’s very clear the aforementioned situations have unfolded in the real lives of the writers. They pop up far to often in multiple shows for them not to have been based in experience. So, not only are viewers getting a voyeuristic peek at someone else’s’ dirty family laundry… we are also part of these writers’ decade-long cathartic therapy sessions as they try to come to terms with the guilt, pleasure and pain of the events in question. It’s all there on the page. It’s the ultimate fly on the wall experience if you are willing to join the dots and watch several TV shows as if they were one.

Pitch perfect dialogue: understand the rhythms, understand the culture

Tangle is also an impressive an achievement at the dialogue level. Aussies have quite an ear for our own voice, not simply for the literal sound… but the rhythms, the cadence, the intricacies of how words run together.

Matt Day and Kat Stewart having a moment in Tangle.

Matt Day and Kat Stewart having a moment in Tangle.

What may sound perfectly normal and award winningly insightful on paper almost NEVER translates when performed in an Aussie accent. Audiences subconsciously detect something’s not right between: “I love her” and “I love ‘ah”. On paper, it looks stupid and wrong, but it’s the difference between honest and believable portrayals of Australians onscreen and the kind of stilted, clumsy dialogue that leaves actors struggling (a perfect example of which can be seen in Tomorrow When The War Began. Excellent actors speaking words and rhythmic structures that young Aussies simply DO NOT speak in).

In this regard, producer John Edwards and the writers he employs, have been able to rise above the pack. It is no coincidence that Edwards has been behind the most highly regarded Aussie productions for over a decade, because he and his superb writing teams stick to a simple rule: understand the rhythms, understand the culture.

As usual, in Tangle the dialogue and performances are spot on. Everyone delivers here, their performances are nuanced and genuinely believable. These are people you have met; these are conversations you’ve had.

For the love of Ben Mendelsohn

Tangle Ben MendelsohnThere’s a great ensemble cast in Tangle, but the real star is Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn has long been a staple of Aussie productions (and most recently cracked into the USA with Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly) but never have we been subjected to such a long-lasting dose of his skills as seen in Tangle.

As Vince Kovac, Mendelsohn owns every single scene of the show, even the ones he isn’t in. No matter what the situation, Vince’s sinister, threatening (and oddly charming) vibe exudes throughout every scene, infecting the lives of everyone in both direct and indirect ways.

As a performer, Mendelsohn takes the dialogue into unexpected territory. A fine example of this is towards the end of the last episode of the first season in which Matt Day’s Gabriel finally works up the courage to express his love publicly for Vince’s wife Ally. (Gabriel is everything Vince is not, and vice versa: Romance vs Lust, Brain vs Brawn.)

As Gabriel paces back and forth, spilling his guts melodramatically – Mendelsohn’s Vince sits silently, still, like a lion assessing his prey. He mutters silently, almost as if Gabriel hasn’t earned the respect to hear his words: “You snake in the grass… Me and Ally are bound in ways you can’t even imagine”. In the hands of anyone else a confrontation like this could end up as a fairly stock standard Home & Away level exchange – but Mendelsohn takes it to such a dark, deeply disturbing place. You can see the Tim Burtonesque spooky forest which consumes his mind through his unflinching eyes. It’s raw and gripping and utterly perfect.

A continuing puzzle, an endless universe

Ultimately, why I adore Tangle is simple: it’s only a tiny part of a much bigger puzzle, a picture which will unveil itself in many forms and in many ways in coming years (assuming networks are smart enough to continue commissioning these productions). Tangle is simply a chapter in an ever growing, wonderfully nuanced John Edwards saga that I can only hope and pray continues to expand outwards like this strange old star-littered place we call the Universe.  It doesn’t hold all the answers – it doesn’t even answer all the questions it raises – but just like the lives it depicts… not everything can have a neatly tailored beginning middle and end. All we can do is just acknowledge we are on a journey and – as Happy Gilmore teaches us – “play the ball as it lies”.

… Also, I really just want to be cast in a John Edwards show. Is that too much to ask? So make that happen AFI, that’d be swell.

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Sean lynch candy aisleAbout the author:

Sean Lynch is a comedy writer/performer, film critic for various publications throughout Australia and Head Editor at WatchOutFor.com.au and WebWombat.com.au. He was one third of the Aria Nominated (Best Comedy Release, 2006) comedy trio The Shambles, a regular presenter on Channel Ten’s The Circle and most recently gave an Academy Award-worthy performance in his gripping portrayal of “Balloon Guy” in Working Dog’s Any Questions For Ben?. You can follow him on twitter @thatlynchyguy but don’t follow him on the tram or at the supermarket, unless you are offering to pay for his groceries or Myki fines.

Note: Tangle Season 3 is one of the four nominees for the AACTA Award for Best Television Drama Series, competing with Puberty Blues, Rake – Season 2 and Redfern Now. The winner will be announced at the 2nd AACTA Awards Ceremony on Wednesday 30 January, and broadcast on Network Ten at 9.30pm. 

If you enjoyed this piece, you may like Why I Adore… Love My Way, by AFI | AACTA Editor Rochelle Siemienowicz.

AACTA Member Spotlight: Jessica Hobbs – Director

Jessica Hobs on set

Jessica Hobbs on set DEVIL’S DUST, photograph by Matt Temple

Jessica Hobbs is the director of many hours of groundbreaking, heart-stopping Australian television dramas, and though she grew up in New Zealand, we’re very happy to claim her as one of our own.

First inspired to work in drama, at age fourteen, when she saw Zeffirelli’s interpretation of the great tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Hobbs has gone on to perfect the art of empathetic, honest and affecting direction: from her early work on Heartbreak High through to THAT episode of Love My Way and her most recent outings on Curtin, Spirited, Tangle, My Place and the incredibly popular and AACTA Award-winning television adaptation of The Slap.

Over the years, Jessica Hobbs has won numerous AFI | AACTA Awards for Best Direction in Television and Short Film.* The Slap has also recently been nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best International Television Series. She is currently working on a two part telemovie Devil’s Dust for ABC TV. Spanning the 1970’s to the 2000’s, Devils Dust is a political thriller that deals with asbestos victim Bernie Banton and his courageous fight against James Hardie Industries.

Despite her wonderful credit list and ever-growing stash of nominations and awards, Hobbs still confesses to the odd moment of self-doubt, but believes the key to getting through is to retain your sense of humour, particularly when things don’t go according to plan.

In this interview, Jessica Hobbs talks about the particular challenges and advantages of working in the television medium. She shares her insight into eliciting the best performances from actors, and talks about the importance of a great script. Hobbs is generous with her praise for those who gave her a start and mentored her early steps in the industry and, in turn, she offers some advice for young directors just starting out.

Jessica Hobbs is one of our newly anointed Honorary Councillors for the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) within the Direction Chapter. We are proud to have film and television makers of this calibre as a part of the new Australian Academy. In coming months, we look forward to sharing more of these profiles as we turn the Member Spotlight onto more performers and practitioners – both those working at home and abroad.

AFI | AACTA: You grew up in New Zealand. What was your educational path towards directing as a career – and directing in Australia?

Jessica Hobbs: I always had a strong interest in theatre and film but I didn’t know that directing was an actual career when I was younger. I do remember being shown Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet at school when I was 14 and wondering who it was that got to create that world. But the idea of it as a proper job, as a career, that only occurred to me a few years later.

AFI | AACTA: Was directing something you always wanted to do, or a career which you fell into?

Jessica Hobbs: I decided when I was about 19 that I’d like to direct but it was a long time before I felt brave enough to tell people that that was my dream. I started working in the film industry in New Zealand at 21 as an assistant director and then a year or so later, I started making short films.  I spent many years working as an AD (Assistant Director) while trying to develop my directing skills. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I started directing full time when Ben Gannon gave me my first big break, directing Heartbreak High. I spent two years directing on the show and it became a bit like a mini film school for me. Every six weeks, I’d get another two hours of story to work on. I loved the directorial process they had on that show. For television at that time, they gave the directors a huge amount of creative freedom.

Jess Hobbs onset DEVIL'S DUST, photograph by Matt Temple

Jess on set DEVIL’S DUST, photograph by Matt Temple

AFI | AACTA: You’ve directed numerous television dramas – from Heartbreak High, Love My Way, Tangle and Spirited, to My Place and The Slap. What is it about directing television dramas that particularly appeals to you? What do enjoy least about it?

Jessica Hobbs: I love directing television and I feel that we’ve been very privileged over the last few years to see a big renaissance in the way that television is made. Television allows you the freedom to explore character development and story structure in greater depth over a longer period of time.

The less positive side of working in television is that it is always a race against time and budget constraints. But, I also see friends who are filmmakers having very similar struggles so perhaps the tyranny of trying to balance creativity and economic realities is across both mediums.

AFI | AACTA: In many of the aforementioned series, the characters and storylines are layered, complex and complicated. They often deal sensitively with fraught emotions or the personal intricacies of life’s ups and downs. I can imagine that this sort of subject matter could be quite difficult to direct. How do you go about getting such honest performances out of your actors?

Jessica Hobbs: I spend as much time as possible talking with them about the story and what we are trying to convey to the audience. Then, we break that down into what they feel it is that their characters want and how they are going to go about getting that.

Every actor uses a different methodology to perform. It’s important that I try to understand their way of working so that we can make the most of our time together. Ultimately, it is the actor who is up there on the screen, not the director, so it’s a big process of trust and giving them the freedom and space to try different things.

AFI | AACTA: In my opinion, you were responsible for directing one of the most moving pieces of Australian television history – that heartbreaking, earth shattering moment in Love My Way [spoiler alert!] when Frankie and Charlie’s world is turned upside down with the death of their only daughter. This moment in the series still resonates with its audience to this day. What for you were the most important elements in being able to do justice to such grief onscreen?

Jessica Hobbs: That was a beautifully developed moment by the writers before I even started the directing process. They had the guts to tell the story in that way and to stick with their idea that Lou’s death was just something that happened out of the blue. There would be no accident, no one to blame. In many ways, that spontaneity freed up my directing and made me conscious that I had to try and keep it very simple and real. It needed to feel like it was a real time experience and I think that’s why it made such an impact for the viewers.

Jess with Essie Davis onset of THE SLAP, photograph by Ben King

Jess with Essie Davis (Anouk) onset of THE SLAP, photograph by Ben King

AFI | AACTA: You recently directed two episodes (‘Anouk’ and ‘Hector’) of the popular Australian mini-series, adapted from the book of the same name, The Slap.  Did you choose to direct these particular episodes/character profiles? If so, why?

Jessica Hobbs: I can be honest now and say yes, I definitely chose Anouk but I initially tried to avoid the Hector episode – [producer] Tony Ayres corralled me into it so I blame him! It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Hector episode just that quite frankly it terrified me.  It was the opening episode of the series and it involved introducing all of the characters and the drama surrounding the slap, itself. I kept trying to off load the episode onto other directors but to no avail. In hindsight, I’m glad Tony pushed me towards it. The project was a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with a brilliant team of directors: Matt Saville, Rob Connolly and Tony Ayres.

AFI | AACTA: You were nominated for your first AFI Award in 2004 (Best Short Fiction Film – So Close to Home) and since then, have twice won the AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – in 2005 for Love My Way, and in 2006 for the two-part drama series about the invasion of East Timor, Answered by Fire. Last year, you were nominated again for the newly named AACTA Award for Best Direction in Television for The Slap. How does it feel and what has it done for your career to be nominated and win these Awards for your craft?

Jessica Hobbs: It was a great sensation to win those AFI awards. It does give you a wonderful feeling of peer recognition. I was immensely proud of both those projects so it was delightful to get the awards. Winning an AFI, or an AACTA as they are now known gave me confidence in my directing style and encouraged me to take more risks in choosing future projects.

Jess with her 2006 AFI Award for Best Direction in Television for ANSWERED BY FIRE

AFI | AACTA: The Slap has just been nominated for a BAFTA Award. Does international recognition feel especially gratifying?

Jessica Hobbs: Well, yes! I think for all of us on The Slap team, it’s been amazing seeing the program being so well received internationally. It has also begun to open up work opportunities for us in the UK.

AFI | AACTA: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your career?

Jessica Hobbs: Trying to keep my sense of humour and not become crippled by self-doubt. I guess it is all part of the normal creative process but it can be very hard to cope with at times. Some things work brilliantly and others just don’t. I am finding that managing my emotional responses to all of that is a life long learning process, a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

AFI | AACTA: Is it difficult to maintain a work/life balance as a television director?

Jessica Hobbs: Yes, but I love the work and feel privileged to be able to do it. My children have a more mixed reaction to it but I’m trying to find a better balance for them.

Jess onset of THE SLAP, photograph by Ben King

Jess on set of THE SLAP, photograph by Ben King

AFI | AACTA: Which part of your job gives you the most joy?

Jessica Hobbs: The creative collaboration with writers, producers, actors, designers, cinematographers, editors – creative collaboration is the best part of the job for me. I adore working with people who push you to produce better work and open you up to all sorts of creative possibilities.

AFI | AACTA: Are there still particular challenges for women in the directing profession? Is there any advice you would give young women trying to get started?

Jessica Hobbs: I think the industry is very open to female directors now. My advice would be the same for anyone, both women and men, look at work that you like and try to work with the teams of people who have made the shows/films that you admire and keep doing your own work.

AFI | AACTA: Are you able to name three mentors who have significantly helped you or influenced you?

Jessica Hobbs: Ben Gannon gave me my first big break and a great piece of advice when I was starting out. He said that if I told the story well then he’d give me more episodes to direct. If it looked great but I didn’t tell the story well then that would be the end of it.

Meeting John Edwards, Claudia Karvan and Jacqueline Perske who all gave me the opportunity to direct Love My Way was momentous for my career. Those three people have had a significant and very positive affect on my directing work.

And Scott Meek [producer and former ABC Head of Drama] is a wonderful mentor to me and has been for many years.

AFI | AACTA: What is your all time favourite Australian film or television program? Why?

Jessica Hobbs: Oh god – picking one?!
Blue Murder for the effect it had on me when I first watched it. I had only just moved to Australia and was mesmerised by it. In terms of features, I still think it would be the experience of watching Samson and Delilah. I sat in the dark and watched in awe.

AFI | AACTA: Thanks for your sharing your time with us.

* AFI |AACTA Award Nominations and Wins:

2004 AFI Award for Best Short Fiction Film – Nomination
So Close To Home
2005 Won AFI Award for Best Direction in Television
Love My Way, Series 1 – Episode 8, ‘A Different Planet’ (Foxtel)
2006 Won AFI Award for Best Direction in Television
Answered By Fire (ABC)
2011 AACTA Award for Best Direction in Television – Nomination
The Slap – Episode 1, ‘Hector’ (ABC1)

Why I Adore: Love My Way

Gnarly Family Trees: Truth, Beauty and Love My Way by Rochelle Siemienowicz

Love My Way, Series 1: Lou (Alex Cook) and Frankie (Claudia Karvan).

Love My Way, Series 1: Lou (Alex Cook) and Frankie (Claudia Karvan).

On a hill by the ocean sits a big white house. A man in a wetsuit returns from his early morning surf. Inside, a woman peers through the gaps in her blanket. The sun shining through creates mysterious patterns of colour and light. Not far away, in another house, a blonde babe climbs astride her sleeping man, arousing him in the nicest possible way until a little girl bounds into the room. ‘Where’s my school uniform?’ she pipes. ‘You were sexing,’ she adds with mild disgust. The woman rolls off, to reveal her satin nightgown straining over a hugely pregnant belly. It’s funny, true and a little bit wrong.

Welcome to a television world where the sun shines, the surf rolls and beautiful people with Australian accents live out their complicated romantic and domestic lives. But this certainly isn’t Home and Away or SeaChange, or even The Secret Life of Us. It isn’t even free-to-air television. It’s Foxtel’s Love My Way, arguably the first and finest Australian drama series created for Pay TV. Over the course of three series, aired from 2004 to 2007, Love My Way collected a huge stash of awards, attracted universal critical acclaim, and built a devoted fan-base that saw the network shift the show’s broadcast channel three times to capitalise on its popularity. Like many prestigious HBO dramas from the United States, it was on DVD that this Australian series probably found its real home and its most fervent fans, with boxed sets bought and borrowed at a frantic rate.

Love My Way

People like us. Key Cast from Love My Way: L-R: Brendan Cowell, Claudia Karvan, Asher Keddie & Dan Wyllie.

So, what makes Love My Way so special? Here’s a classic scene from the first episode: ‘This is my birth and I’ll do it how I fucking want to,’ says pregnant control-freak Julia (Asher Keddie) as she fills the wading pool in the courtyard, lighting aromatherapy candles for pain relief. Several hours later she’s screaming at the midwife and at her husband, Charlie (Dan Wyllie), when they suggest some Panadol.’Panadol! Haven’t you got anything else, I’m only two fucking centimetres dilated!’ As the ordeal progresses, she’s in the water, straining and splashing. Lovely, funny, irresponsible Charlie tries to support her and keep her afloat, but only with one arm – the other is firmly attached to his bottle of beer, as if he’ll drown without it. We’re later shown, quite matter-of-factly, the crimson cloud of blood and afterbirth staining the water; testament that Love My Way is prepared to get dirty and real.

Love My Way DVD cover Series 3Over the course of three seasons, the drama unflinchingly depicts things not often spotted on Australian television. For a start, candidly depicted sex is a key driver here, a central facet in every character’s life, whether they’re fifteen, thirty-five or fifty. Sometimes it’s good sex, often it’s bad. Sometimes it’s porn-fuelled masturbation, and occasionally, as we’ve seen, it happens in front of the children. Then there’s the casual and often inconsequential drug use – cocaine, ecstasy, ice and lots of dope. And don’t forget the kleptomania, the nymphomania, the lighting of farts, the biting of ears, and the grief, oh the endless, messy and almost unbearable grief of losing somebody you love. Yes, there’s pain and dirt aplenty, and thanks to superb scripting and naturalistic acting, it feels incredibly real.

This isn’t the kind of ‘dirty and real’ that we see in so much Australian cinema…

But this isn’t the kind of ‘dirty and real’ that we see in so much Australian cinema, where harsh lighting, bad skin and foul language combine to create a general low-rent ugliness – a tendency so pronounced that it’s a common accusation that our films are only about drug addicts, criminals and bogans. Instead, Love My Way is decidedly stylish and certainly middle-class. The characters might swear a lot, drink far too much (even when they’re breastfeeding) and suffer the odd embarrassing encounter with the law, but they’re living lives that look very good indeed. They’re architects, artists and chefs; people who wear casually assembled vintage clothes, go surfing every morning and attend the Walkley Awards for work. They sing karaoke to Crowded House songs, share barbecues with their exes and various new spouses and children, and have marital crises in Ikea showrooms, where they dream that ‘storage solutions’ might solve all their problems.

These are people like ‘us’, or the people we’d like to think we are – complex, flawed and cool, making our living in vaguely creative ways and living in somehow affordable but spectacular inner-city real estate. Mostly, though, they’re like ‘us’ because they’re trying to make the best of a family structure that bears only passing resemblance to the traditional nuclear model.

Claudia Karvan, star and co-creator of Love My Way.

Claudia Karvan, star and co-creator of Love My Way.

Claudia Karvan, the star and co-creator of Love My Way, has said that the series grew out of the observation that while the harrowing divorce-drama Kramer vs Kramer reflected the way families broke up in the 1970s, nowadays people seem to handle it better. Her character Frankie is a case in point. She’s in her early thirties and a single mother to the impish eight-year-old Lou (Alex Cook). While it’s not always easy sharing custody with Lou’s father, Charlie, and his new wife Julia, it’s managed with admirable honesty and only the occasional screaming match. These characters own keys to each other’s houses, and Frankie remains on intimate terms with Charlie’s parents (Max Cullen and Lynette Curran). She even shares her house (and sometimes her bed) with Charlie’s brother, the blunt and sparky Tom (Brendan Cowell).

Here, the modern family tree is an overgrown mess of branches growing out of the dirt of broken love stories and abandoned vows.

When little Lou is asked to draw a family tree for a school project, she titles it ‘My Family Up a Tree’ – an allusion to the family’s craziness, but also to the way she happily exists at the trunk of it. The set up makes perfect and natural sense to her child’s mind.

The series takes as its central premise the idea that strangely beautiful fruit can grow on these gnarly family trees: ex-partners who understand each other deeply and make each other laugh; stepmothers who prove to be cranky and sweet, rather than wicked; and new babies born into a tangle of adopted aunties and uncles. Naturally, such trees are prone to their own peculiar thorns and diseases. Hostility and resentment often break through, as does latent sexual tension. Money is always an issue, and new additions to the family, whether through birth, marriage or friendship, cause already clouded dynamics to shift and change. It makes for great and absorbing drama.

LMW Series 3 Julia and Charlie and Toby (Asher Keddie, Dan Wyllie & Byron Chaplain)

'The way a marriage can turn sour in one conversation, and recover with one well-timed joke." Asher Keddie and Dan Wyllie create one of the most convincing married couples ever seen on Australian television. Image from Series 3 of Love My Way.

The general concept of large and messy family groupings is nothing new for television drama, and of course it’s a staple of soap opera. It’s certainly a recurrent theme for Southern Star producer John Edwards. With other collaborators, he is also the creator of a mini-genre that began with The Secret Life of Us (Channel Ten, 2001-2004), a show that was more about friends who form a family. Then came Love My Way, followed by Foxtel Showcase drama Tangle, having this year broadcast its second season, with a third on the way – a noir-ish tale of family life set in Melbourne suburbia. Then Edwards is also involved with Channel Ten’s hit comedy drama series Offspring, about a neurotic thirty-something obstetrician (Asher Keddie) and her ‘fabulously messy family’.

The writing is so good in Love My Way that there’s hardly a clichéd exchange or a predictable plot development. And yet it feels so familiar, the way that a marriage can turn sour in one conversation, and recover with one well timed joke; or the way that a friend can suddenly become a lover or an adversary.

It’s impossible to write about Love My Way without mentioning the incredible physical beauty of the production.

A team of accomplished writers was responsible for such great scripting, including Karvan herself, along with film and television veteran and series co-creator Jacquelin Perske, playwright Tony McNamara and actor/playwright Brendan Cowell. Working in collaboration, they pooled ideas and themes from their own experiences of marriage, divorce, parenthood and working life. It’s the way the characters speak to each other that feels so refreshing and real. It’s often brutal, with a disarming lack of etiquette. As Tom tells Frankie one morning when she’s recounting a dream from which she’s freshly awoken: ‘Don’t tell me your dreams. Other people’s dreams bore the shit out of me.’ And he’s not being aggressive or angry. It’s just a matter of fact.

It’s impossible to write about Love My Way without mentioning the incredible physical beauty of the production. It’s not just the good-looking cast and stunning Sydney locations. It’s the craft we’re talking about here – from the cinematography, to the production and costume design. The gorgeous opening credits, repeated over the three seasons, signpost the visual tone and saturated colour scheme that continues into the show itself. They’re worth looking at closely. (In fact these are the first 10 minutes of the first episode, and I predict you’ll want to watch every single one of them.)


These opening credits are set underwater, with a sea-green background and the sunlight filtering down through bubbles. The characters appear to be floating and swimming, suspended in light and water. Karvan’s hair drifts in the current like seaweed, and her clothes of red and green gleam like a mermaid’s tail. Bringing humour and levity to the painterly scene, other actors, like Dan Wyllie and Lynette Curran, mug and grin through goggles as they swim in front of the camera. Complementing these visuals is a soundscape that’s both nostalgic and otherworldly, yet with a forward-thrusting energy. It’s The Psychedelic Furs’ early 1980s hit ‘Love My Way’, performed this time by Magic Dirt – wonderfully evocative, though maddeningly repetitive if you happen to sit through too many DVD episodes at a time…

The aesthetic beauty of Love My Way, its cinematic production values, extends from the opening credits into every single scene of the series. In fact, it’s possible to freeze almost any frame of the show and find a beautiful composition of colour, light and form, especially in those scenes containing Karvan, with her angular frame and her solemnly beautiful face. In a recent critique of Australian cinema, Louis Nowra berated our filmmakers for failing to engage in the full and lingering romance of the human face on the big screen. Love My Way has such a romance, albeit on the small screen, and it’s compelling enough to suggest he may be right: we need more of this.

Love My Way is proudly ‘arty’. One of its central themes is the quest to create art and to use one’s life in the work. Frankie is an artist. She inhabits many other roles – as mother, lover and friend – but at her core is the need to filter what she sees and feels into her work; to make it live again through paint on canvas. She has to constantly fight against the demands of those other roles – childcare and paid work, especially, are always sucking away at her painting time. It’s a reality that any creative parent is bound to recognise.

Love My Way Series 1. Alex Cook as Lou

Proudly 'arty' a central theme of Love My Way is a woman's struggle to be an artist, mother and lover. Alex Cook as Lou.

Unlike so many films that deal superficially with the creative process, whether of writing, composing music, or painting, Love My Way, as a television series, can sustain and explore the theme of what it really means to be an artist and a woman, and demonstrate the way these things are inseparable for this character. Frankie’s work is informed in Series One by her dreams and her fears, and finally by her very great and overwhelming grief. By Series Three she is fighting for her simple right to be an artist, with her cocky new husband, Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn), teasing her and saying that if she really were an artist she would do it more compulsively, instead of finding excuses. Her outrage is palpable.

Lewis and Frankie (Ben Mendelsohn & Claudia Karvan in Series 3 of Love My Way).

Cocky, erratic and irresistible, Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn) is a challenge to Frankie in Series 3.

Not only does she have to manage Lewis’s erratic behaviour, manic spending and his annoying teenage son (who’s suddenly materialised on the doorstep), but she’s now being asked to justify and prove the very thing that is at the heart of her identity! It’s only when she begins to create again, at the conclusion of Series Three, by making a beautiful and dreamlike tribute to the ghosts of her past, that Frankie can again approach wholeness.

The operative word here is ‘approach’, because Love My Way is far too honest and life-like to ever attempt storylines that present characters as finally or fully redeemed, healed or completed. Resolution is only ever temporary and conditional. As John Edwards, the co-creator of the series, has said: ‘The great lie of television is that things get resolved.’ The genius of Love My Way is that it works within that lie – as a successful television drama that satisfies the need we have for stories to be beautiful, to have endings; for characters to find meaning and transcendence. But at the same time, it’s realistic enough, and convincing enough, to have us believe that Frankie and Lewis, and Julia and Charlie, and all the rest of that surprisingly functional family might be out there, living new stories in their complicated lives. Even if we’re not watching.

A version of this article was originally published in Kill Your Darlings, Issue 2, July 2010.

 

Note: Love My Way at the AFI Awards

In an astonishing run, Love My Way recieved the AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series three years in a row – 2005, 2006 and 2007. The series also won multiple other AFI Awards and nominations. They are all listed below.

 2005

Won: AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – Jessica Hobbs
Won: AFI Award for Best Guest or Supporting Actor in Television – Max Cullen
Won: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television – Claudia Karvan
Won: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Jacquelin Perske
Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards and Claudia Karvan

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television – Dan Wyllie
Nominated: AFI Award for Outstanding Achievement in Craft in Television – Louis Irving (cinematography)

2006

Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards, Claudia Karvan, Jaquelin Perske

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – Shirley Barrett
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television Drama – Dan Wyllie
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Claudia Karvan
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Asher Keddie
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Jacquelin Perske

2007

Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards, Claudia Karvan
Won: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Claudia Karvan

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Guest or Supporting Actress in Television Drama – Justine Clarke
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television Drama – Ben Mendelsohn
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Tony McNamara

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon and Clem Bastow reminisces about a childhood spent watching the television show Round the Twist. Or you can read Anthony Morris flirting with disaster in his adoration of Romper Stomper, Annie Stevens going bridal with Muriel’s Wedding, or Popzilla bowing down before the altar of literary screen adaptations. Most recently, Lia McCrae-Moore showers affection on SBS’s high-octane police thriller, East West 101.

Contribute: We’re currently looking for more ’Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] afi.org.au and we’ll get back to you with more details.